When I was younger I did a lot of traveling within the US but had never gotten the chance to go out of the country or overseas. It was something I had dreamed about but never had the opportunity to do. I could wax poetic over that or what made me want to travel but more importantly I got the chance to travel overseas in 2017. Though I had been to Canada a number of times I didn’t feel like that quite counted. But this… this was Europe and I was ready and also … a little terrified.
In October of 2017 I packed one backpack and flew nonstop to Dublin, Ireland.
I didn’t have much in mind for the trip other than a hostel booked in Dun Laoghaire and a couple of rail tickets to Sligo and Killarney. My expectations were pretty slim, not because I didn’t think that Ireland didn’t have much to deliver, but because I didn’t know what it was like to travel overseas and what it would be like to travel completely alone and with no real direction.
As I went through customs, the border patrol agent smiled and asked if my Bear had a passport, incidentally, Bear does not, but the agent allowed him through anyways. (I should probably have a separate entry about Bear, who has traveled on every single trip I’ve been on since probably age 10.)
After a double decker bus trip into the city, I picked up my student card and ambled around Dublin, stumbling over Oscar Wilde’s house and then shuffling myself off to a train so I could make my way down to where I would be staying.
Originally I thought I could stay awake the whole time but as soon as I got in, I ended up dropping face down on my bed with the window open and having a nap. My regrets are exactly zero. The room was small and overlooked a neighbor’s back garden. She seemed to have a tan and white dog that bumbled along after her as she went about her chores.
My first evening, I was treated to a watery, cloudy Irish sunset through the roofs of nearby homes.
The second day I woke up early to walk down to the Sandycove & Glasthule station. It was still dark out and I sat on the ground just listening to the wind in the trees.
I got to Connolly Station in Dublin and then grabbed a transfer to one of the large cross-country trains to head out to Sligo. Admittedly I chose Sligo on a whim because on a google search I saw that they had an Abbey that looked interesting and I figured I could probably make something of a day or so there if I went. I ended up wandering the town, photographing murals and stumbled over a free county museum that had original letters from WB Yeats and artefacts donated from the Bronze age that people often just … found in their fields. The whole place looked like someone’s hoarder fantasy of historical finds and I sort of loved it. You could tell they needed a hand, needed volunteers and curators to do some more work, probably, but they loved it. The curator on duty spoke fondly of the collections, of how people locally just found things of interest and brought them in for safe keeping or display and somehow to me that feels like a genuine museum experience in its own way. Here are things that belong to our community that we want to share far and wide and here is the place we’ve decided, collectively, is the spot to do that. It was small, crammed, and important.
The curator showed me on a map how to get the Abbey and there I went next.
The Sligo Abbey (Friary), was built in 1252/1253 and then was in use up until the 1760s. Some of the original structure remains with enhancements made in the middle ages but the stone altar that has stood the test of time, is the only sculpted masonic structure of its kind in a monastic church anywhere.
The things I noticed were the very low doorways, the narrow walkways like on the elevated pulpit, the way the light sculpted in through windows or doorways or ruined walls.
I watched a trio of kittens play in the churchyard for awhile, but when I tried to pet them they scurried over the garden wall.
I found all of the points on the self guided tour map including the elusive sculpted lovers knot and ram’s head that were inlaid medieval architectural additions. It drizzled the entire time I was there, but somehow that gave the entire place a rich ambiance. As it would turn out, the Friary is still active though they are now across town in a more modern building.
At some point in my wandering I got to St. John’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Famously, St. John’s churchyard is home to Bram Stoker’s mother’s burial plot. I managed a stop at the tourist bureau and even had lunch at a lovely but busy local pub.
While I missed out on the megalithic ruins, I think it was alright. I got to see so much of this beautiful small town on foot and felt like I really lived a glorious day there. My goal for the next day was to take it easy and as my Uncle Chris and Aunt Jeannie (world travelers themselves) say, go with the flow.
The things that I learned on my first two days in Ireland and my first full day out and about: I really love ruins as much as I thought I would. There’s no comparison for seeing them in person either – they really are awe inspiring and so much more majestic than anything else I’ve ever encountered. Built in 1252? It’s just surreal to stand there and take it all in and know that this is lived in, it was built, it was used, and it has survived. It’s really something else entirely. More incredibly, it’s not even the oldest thing around! Carrowmore for instance, which I didn’t get to, is from the Bronze Age …
At any rate, stay tuned for another Ireland entry …and in the mean time, enjoy some of my first two days there in photos.